I received this month’s edition of Labour Today [December 2015] and was immediately struck by two things; the cover image showing a group of individuals walking alongside Jeremy Corbyn and the tagline, Straight talking, honest politics. In my opinion, the latter is clearly an oxymoron whilst the image just defeats me. Who are these people with Jeremy, who are they meant to represent and how am I meant to interpret the phrase, straight talking honest politics?
I understand that Jeremy is keen to be seen as being both honest and straight talking however, there has been very little of the latter since he became leader of the Labour Party. The blame does not lie with Jeremy though, far from it. The Labour leader has struggled from day one to get his message across, not just to the opposition parties but to his own party as well. However, when Jeremy was on the campaign trail, prior to being elected leader, his message was clearly heard and welcomed by the party members. I witnessed Jeremy’s rise in popularity and have to admit that I went from having no interest in him whatsoever to becoming convinced that he was the right person to lead the Labour party out of the wilderness from where it had become a political chimera, neither Trot nor Tory.
Corbyn, when he is allowed to speak, makes a lot of sense but there are so many dissenting voices jumping in without being invited, that his words are either left hanging in the air or simply misinterpreted by the media. Take the supposed response to the recent Paris bombings? Did Jeremy ever say that he would not support the right of our public protection services to use whatever force they deemed necessary to combat terrorism here in the UK? Of course not, he simply questioned the current Shoot to kill policy, something that many of us must feel uneasy about surely or is it just me? A few years ago, someone I knew to be heavily dependent on cannabis went a bit strange whilst in a public place and despite not being armed or even capable of harming another person, was shot dead by the armed police response unit despatched to sort the problem. You have to question why, in most situations, these “marksmen” cannot bring the situation under control without exterminating someone who may simply have been unwell.
This is the problem though, isn’t it? “We” only take an interest in something when it directly affects “us”. However, when some unpretentious, unfashionable “leftie” tries to raise an interesting point “we” slap them down with shouts of treachery or worse. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for those members of the Parliamentary Labour Party [PLP] who have decided to join the mob outside the castle baying for Jeremy’s blood. People such as Jess Phillips who has been very forthcoming about her personal feelings towards her boss and Tom Watson who has been less transparent but who I suspect is the one that the others take their knives to for sharpening. As someone who spent most of their working life in management, I learnt the value of having a good deputy very early in my career. A good deputy will do very little apart from their job whereas a bad deputy is often too busy undermining the boss that they forget exactly what it is that they should be doing. However, there are those who will always make much better deputies than team leaders, John Prescott, for example, proved himself to be an excellent deputy leader. Michael Hessletine on the other hand, was a bad one and in my opinion, the Labour Party’s current Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, seems to be following in “Tarzan’s” footsteps rather than “Prezza’s”.
So why is it that Jeremy Corbyn, the most democratically elected leader ever, of the Labour Party or any other political party for that matter, is so disliked? Is it because he is far too honest, too straight talking, has a beard, doesn’t always wear a tie, or, what is it? It doesn’t help that he is a socialist when there is an almost universal hostility in the West towards Socialism that has festered and grown since before the Second World War. In a sense, the British public have been radicalised into believing that Socialism is synonymous with each and every evil that threatens the free world. Some people probably confuse the term with Fascism – a right-wing totalitarian political system characterized by state control and extreme nationalism but of course, that would be the extreme opposite of Socialism. However, The Conservative party which has a history of supporting various Fascist regimes around the world, harbours an intense hatred of Socialism. Neville Chamberlain who was Prime Minister at the outbreak of the Second World War would have nothing to do with socialist thinking and declared Socialists and Communists to be one and the same thing. So dismissive was he of The Soviets that by refusing to engage in talks with Russia prior to 1939, Chamberlain led Britain into a war that many historians believe, could have been avoided. It has also come to light that the Tory PM believed that Britain could take on both Germany and Russia at the same time! [ despite the latter not having shown any aggression towards Britain ]
Now, I find this and many other facts revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, really scary. The most worrying thing is that we have leaders past and present who work, think and play within extremely small circles of influence. The Tories, in or out of government, may appear to be acting on behalf of the people for, the common good but in reality they are simply serving their friends and masters. Ironically, The Tories were not always like this especially, when they were generally perceived to be the opposition party to the more popular Liberal party [The Whigs] prior to Labour’s foundation in the early 1900s. Support for the Tories grew throughout the Twentieth Century largely because of the advances in publishing and the media generally. Newspaper barons found that they could manipulate public opinion in almost any direction they wished and with virtually every daily newspaper in favour of having a Conservative government, that was what we usually ended up with.
However, since Labour became the main opposition party, the Tory Party has become the chosen home of Britain’s wealthiest and most influential families or individuals and not surprisingly, a Socialist doctrine which argues for greater wealth re-distribution amongst the whole population is never likely to be taken seriously by the “better-off”. Fortunately, for the British upper classes, the lower classes never showed much interest in either politics or philosophy, the working man being more concerned with having enough money in his pocket to spend on beer, cigarettes and horses. The fact that their bosses owned the horses that they gambled their hard earned wages on, manufactured and sold the beer and cigarettes that they became addicted to, never troubled the British working man whilst there was full employment. Britain’s close relationship with America is another reason why Socialism is considered to be the enemy of democracy although, in reality, America was home to more Communists than Britain. Churchill however, was absolutely besotted with America and would never go against anything that the US President suggested despite the fact that unequivocal support from the US was not always returned our way.
Following the end of World War Two, the Labour Party found itself in government for the second time with Clement Attlee as Prime Minister. It was a victory that surprised everyone, none more so than the Labour Party members and their supporters. However, the Attlee government took office with a mandate for fundamental social and economic change which, according to the late Denis Healey, they fulfilled more successfully than any Labour government before or since. However, it wasn’t a happy time as there were tremendous divisions within the Labour Party just as there is today and yet somehow, Attlee with great assistance from his deputy Ernest Bevin, Stafford Cripps and Aneurin Bevan managed to completely change the face of Britain. However, the task of building The Welfare State as we know it, in less than five years and at a time when the country was still clearing up the aftermath of WW2, left Atlee and his cabinet members severely fatigued rather than buoyed by their successes.
The 1950 general election saw Labour win but with a very small majority which, twelve months later, dropped even further thus allowing the Conservatives led by Winston Churchill back into government. With hindsight, it looked as though the Labour Party had simply been used to implement that most challenging of projects, The Welfare State, of which there was cross party agreement but which the Conservatives themselves showed very little interest in. It has also been suggested that Attlee’s government, which still contained a number of Communists, had been systematically undermined by Churchill’s American “friends” since gaining office in 1945. Whatever it was that brought about the downfall of the first majority Labour government, the apparent in-fighting between the different socialist groups within the party and the sometimes violent, clashes between certain personalities didn’t help matters.
The 1950s are often described as a “Golden age for Britain” and certainly, access to free health care, growth in public education, the greatest ever expansion of council housing and the end of rationing helped to install a feel-good feeling in Britain’s lower-classes after the terrible experiences of the war years. However, whilst things were looking up on the home front, Britain’s foreign affairs during the 1950s and early 60s were absolutely disastrous. Three consecutive Conservative governments brought Britain into conflict with almost every Middle East country, resulting in us losing friendships that had taken decades to build. The mistakes made by those governments almost certainly laid the foundations for the hostilities that now exist between the Arab countries and the West. However, by the time that Labour returned to government in 1964 Western eyes were mainly focused on the changes taking place in Africa and the Far East. Britain continued to engage diplomatically with Middle East Countries because it relied on their oil production but relations were cordial at best, even with countries like Saudi Arabia who had previously been one of Britain’s closest allies.
As leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister 1964 -70 and 1974-76, Harold Wilson had no easier time than the one Jeremy Corbyn is having at the moment. Wilson’s Labour Party remained just as divided as it had been when Attlee was its’ leader and as far as I can see, those divisions, whilst slightly altered post-Blair, are still in evidence today. However, the main difference between then and now is that the vocational calling that went with politics has gone. Today’s politicians are simply in it for themselves. Tony Blair was never a socialist [that word again] but he joined the Labour Party because he knew that it would fast-track him to where he wanted to be quicker than had he joined the Conservatives. His supporters however, will defend his record as Prime Minister whilst, I suspect, most people now see him for the career opportunist he was. The Labour governments led by Tony Blair could have done so much more to narrow the widening gap between Britain’s richest and poorest citizens but to do so would have risked losing the support of the new elite. Even his Tory predecessor, John Major, wanted to see a “class-less” society , ironically the very thing that Communism also seeks, using policies designed to lift people out of poverty. Jeremy Corbyn by contrast, could not be more different than Tony Blair or John Major but whether that suggests he would make a better Prime Minister, no one knows. What we do know however, is that Jeremy is the leader of The Labour Party, The Queen’s opposition and as such, he should be shown every respect. Only by listening to what Jeremy has to say will we ever determine whether he is the right person for the job or not.